« March 2009 | Main | May 2009 »

April 30, 2009

Building Closure: Humphrey Center, Hanson Hall, Carlson School

from Vice President Kathleen OBrien
reply-to bulk-nr@umn.edu
to wbgleason@gmail.com
date Thu, Apr 30, 2009 at 2:06 PM
subject Building closures: Carlson School, Hanson Hall, Humphrey Center
mailed-by umn.edu

hide details 2:06 PM (6 minutes ago)


Students, Faculty and Staff:

The University will be closing three buildings on our West Bank campus due to a time specific threat of violence obtained by law enforcement. Those buildings include the Carlson School of Management, Hanson Hall and the Hubert H. Humphrey Center. All classes and activities beginning at or after 3:45 are cancelled in those buildings and they will close at 4:30 p.m.

This was a very specific threat of violence targeted at these three buildings. We are erring on the side of caution by canceling classes and activities and closing the buildings. UMPD is actively investigating this threat.

The Humphrey Institute’s "Changing Competitive Position of Public Research Universities" lecture has been moved to 5 Blegen Hall.

The threat was specific enough that regular operations will resume on Friday morning.

I apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your cooperation.

Nevada's Chancellor is Paid $23,660 and He Donates It to Scholarships

From University Diaries:

Update: Nevada’s Universities

Bloomberg News updates Nevada’s situation, and interviews Chancellor James Rogers.

Rogers, 70, who takes a salary of $23,660, the minimum allowed, and donates it to scholarships, has blasted the governor and his cuts in 61 memos posted since May on the system’s Web site.

President Bruininks?

April 29, 2009

Something New or Same Old, Same Old - You Decide

The Strib has a piece by President Bruininks that just appeared on the web. This ran on Sunday along with the first part of the Generation Debt series. Part one of the series has also just appeared on the web.

President Bruininks opinion:

U tries to ease tuition burden with scholarships, creativity


The cost of college is the single most discussed issue in higher education today. Unfortunately, most of these discussions focus solely on "sticker price," fueling misconceptions about how much students pay and why.

First, it's important to understand that public universities have two main sources of money to keep the doors open and provide a quality education: state funding and tuition.

The University of Minnesota functions best when our state invests in us. But as state spending priorities shift, tuition is an essential source of predictable revenue.

Second, tuition does not equal out-of-pocket cost. Recognizing the essential role of tuition in our budget, the university supports creative strategies to reduce the burden on most Minnesota students and their families. We've done this by:

• providing free tuition to all low-income Minnesota students

• generating $256 million in private support in the past five years to endow scholarships, doubling the number we offer and the size of the awards

• reducing spending and increasing productivity to minimize increases in room and board costs

• and creating incentives -- including offering credits taken above 13 per semester for free -- to encourage timely degree completion

This last point is critical: completing a degree in four years instead of five saves approximately $20,000, and students who take longer than four years borrow more frequently and in higher amounts.

Since tuition is increasingly important to our ability to provide a world-class education, we must continue to moderate tuition increases for students with need.

The time is now to build on the progress we've made in support of low-income students, along with expanded grant support and higher education tax benefits from the federal government, to meet the needs of our state's middle-income families. Together we can work together to ensure affordable access for all Minnesota students.

President Bruininks,

Let's speak plainly.

We have the highest debt load and the lowest graduation rate in the BigTen.

Simply claiming that people should graduate faster is not the answer to the problem.

And I remind you that even if scholarships (I wish this were financial aid) are increasing, if the cost of attending the U (total) keeps going up at an even faster rate, then students are going to be deeper and deeper in debt. It is a matter of priorities and our current ones are out of alignment.

Talking about "ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]" is inappropriate under the present circumstances.

So is the ca 750 million dollar building spree.

I hope that you have read all three parts of the Strib's Generation Debt series by now, and that you have learned some useful things from it. Repeating the same old stuff again and again about scholarship money increasing is not going to solve the debt and graduation problems, no matter how good your intentions might be.

What are you going to do to increase graduation rates, not incrementally, but significantly? And what steps are going to be taken so that we do not hold down the unenviable last place in the Big Ten as far as average debt at graduation goes?


Bill Gleason

Deeper in debt...

MED2010 - The Pause That Refreshes?

from the Daily:

A planned major overhaul of the Medical School’s curriculum will be largely scaled back due to financial constraints***, according to Medical School officials.

Components of the MED2010 initiative, which has been in the works the last few years, will still be incorporated into the education of medical students entering in 2010, said Dr. Lindsey Henson, vice dean for education in the Medical School. But the stark program changes will not be put into place as planned, she said.

Originally the brain child of Dean Dr. Deborah Powell, MED2010 was the product of numerous faculty consultations and pilot programs. The proposed changes would have completely altered the way the University of Minnesota educates new physicians.

A memo regarding the MED2010 changes from Senior Vice President for Health Sciences Dr. Frank Cerra and Powell is expected to be sent to faculty and students sometime this week.

*** Uh, huh!

This song was written by Prince. He was paid $5 million for it too.

The original demo has Prince doing a Ray Charles pastiche/impression, indicating that he knew the song was for Ray to sing. His original demo is 6 minutes or so long: starting with just keyboard organ and voice, before becoming a major funk workout.

April 28, 2009

Generation Debt (Part III): It’s Payback Time

April 28 (2009)
This last piece was written by Kara McGuire

From third part of a series in the Strib:

“Danni Hulm-Lowe lives in her in-laws’ basement in Woodbury with no plans to move out soon. With $94,000 in undergraduate loans, nearly every dollar earned as a school portrait photographer goes to her $1,000 monthly loan payments.”

[Ouch! This situation raises a lot of questions and the culprit in this case is not the U of M but Concordia College in St. Paul.]

“Having a college degree has been offered up as a key to middle-class prosperity. But now with unemployment at 8.5%, some graduates are having a tougher time finding a job and making good on their college debts.”

“That has the Dannis of the world wondering where their college advisers were when taking on their student debt. Colleges have come under fire for cozy relationships with credit card companies and student loan providers. Lenders, too, face criticism that they have too little to lose if a student borrows too much.”

“As debt loads mount, so does concern that student loan debt will be the next financial crisis.”

“It’s unsustainable,” said David Laird, president of the Minnesota Private College Council. “There’s a limit to how much students can and ought to be borrowing.”

“At Minnesota’s four-year colleges, the average student debt burden for a student in the class of 2007 was $24,169 compared with an average of $20,098 nationwide, according to the Project on Student Debt.”

The article goes on. But I am too depressed to continue typing. Hopefully it will be posted on line in a couple of days and I will put up a link.

Meanwhile, here’s a summary of the series:

Sunday: Tuition increases pushing college out of reach for middle-class students.

Monday: Legislators, critics tell colleges: Show us the money!

Tuesday: Students find financial advice, protection lacking.

April 27, 2009

Generation Debt, Part the Second

From today’s Strib. (The article is still available “only in today’s paper.”

"Legislators, critics tell colleges: Show us the money.”


Being a world-class research institute requires top notch faculty and facilities. And although such status attracts students and grants, is the cost too high?

Investments in faculty, administrators and new buildings make a university’s reputation and help attract top students, but also drive much of its cost. Now states are taking a harder look at whether those costs are justified. If provisions to a House higher education bill pass, Minnesota could join other states in tying their funding to limitations on spending and tuition increases.

One target for some Minnesota lawmakers is the U’s ambition to be one of the best research universities in the world.

“I’ve been concerned that these cost-drivers of getting to that goal have been more than our average students can absorb.” [C. Robling, R-Jordan]

The public believes universities could cut back without hurting their quality, a national survey by non-profit Public Agenda shows. Meanwhile, new studies of college spending are giving taxpayers details that allow them to challenge university priorities.

A ground-breaking analysis by the non-partisan Delta Project on Post-Secondary Education Costs , Productivity, and Accountability found the Twin Cities campus spends more per student - $21,400 in 2006 – than any other state’s public research universities.

The U paid its full professors an averagee salary of $127,400 in 2008 and an average total compensation of $167,200 (not including the medical school). That makes its professors the third-best compensated in the BigTen and and fourth-best in what it considers its “comparative group,” which includes schools such as UC-Berkeley.

The cost of administration

The driving force behind rising tuition is not too much spending on faculty, but too much elsewhere, recent reports say.

In newspaper editorial pages and at Capitol hearings, students, faculty, and legislators have pushed for cuts to the University of Minnesota’s central administration. The State House of Representatives higher education omnibus bill includes a provision that would bar the U from using state funding to pay for new administrative positions or for administrator’s salary increases.

“Once you start looking at the budget, there’s a huge concentration of funds in areas that do not contribute at all to teaching, research, or outreach,” said Eva von Dassow, associate professor.

Big bills for brick and mortar

Buildings are the most visible target for cost-cutting advocates.

At the start of this semester, the University of Minnesota gave some students the chance, via video, to ask questions of Bruininks.

“I would just like to know,” asked one woman, “how the university is justifying all its increased spending, especially on a lot of things people think are kind of extravagant – the new history museum, the TCF bank stadium – especially in an economic climate that I think most Americans would agree that spending beyond our means has caused.”

The U is in the midst of a building boom. Over the next five to ten years it plans to build or renovate or add to the following: The TCF Bank Stadium, The Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, three new biomedical labs, The Weisman Art Museum, Northrop Auditorium, The Science Teaching and Student Services Center (which will replace the Science Classroom Building) the Recreation Center, a new physics and nanotechnology facility, and the Bell Museum of Natural History. The legislature continues to debate whether to fund the Bell Museum and will consider the physics and nanotechnology building within the next few years.

Together, the projects add up to more than $750 million, said Orlyn Miller, the U’s director of project management.

“We’ve been operating in what you might call a seller’s market,” said Patrick Callan, founding president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. “There hasn’t been a lot of incentive to find cost-effective approaches. In fact, the incentive has been to become more expensive.”

April 26, 2009

Statement from University Administration About Dinkytown Riot

Or disturbance or incident or whatever euphemism you wish to use...

A statement from the University of Minnesota

Contacts: Daniel Wolter, University News Service, 651-485-3214 cell

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (04/26/2009) — The following is a statement from University of Minnesota Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart about the incident near Dinkytown on late Saturday night:

"Last night's events near Dinkytown, where a block party got out of control, were an unacceptable display of lawless behavior. This kind of conduct is not reflective of our student body or the University of Minnesota community.

"Recently, we strengthened our student conduct code to be applicable to off-campus situations such as this. We intend to use that code to its fullest as more is learned about those who were arrested and involved in this incident.

"We'll also be taking a look at the causes behind this situation to determine what changes can be made to ensure it is not repeated.

"On behalf of the University community, I want to thank those law enforcement officers who brought this situation to an end without serious injury, and apologize to our neighbors and the broader community for this kind of inexcusable behavior."

Dinkytown Riot: Daily Editor Bylines at Strib

From the Strib:

Police forced to rein in Dinkytown block party


Hundreds of students became unruly in Dinkytown late Saturday with Minneapolis Police in riot gear trying to break up a block party turned bad.

Police used pepper spray and smoke grenades to disperse the students on 7th Street and between 14th and 13th Avenues SE after a bonfire was lit in the street.

Mike Stahl, a student from nearby Augsburg College, said he was 15 feet from a smoke grenade that went off. "I couldn't breathe," Stahl said. "I understand why the cops are here because I have never seen anything like this."

Generation Debt

From the Star-Tribune
Sunday, April 26 (2009)

Kudos to U of M alumn, Jenna Ross, for a fine article – front page above the fold – in today’s Sunday Strib.

[The article is “paper only” at this point. Hopefully it will go up on the web at some time in the future and a proper link can be given.]

Selections from Generation Debt:

“Bri Gamblain couldn’t register for a second semester at the U because she didn’t have the money. Now she works at Harvard Market on the campus and spends her days at home or looking for a second job.”

“To pay for school, Tom Sakrzewicz has worked most weeknights uloading hundreds of trucks and will likely fight in a war. Still, the University of Minnesota junior expects to graduate owing more than $25,000.”

“Student debt is soaring – it has risen 157 percent in the state over the past decade – as college costs advance at a rate far exceeding family income.”

“The aid never grows as fast as the cost, so we’re always falling behind.” Patrick Callahan, Center for Public Policy and Higher Education

“In a recent survey by the non-profit, Public Agenda, 67 percent said many who qualified for college can’t get there. … Those numbers ‘reveal a chipping away of public support for higher education and a growing suspicion about how well colleges and universities use the money that they,’ the report warns.”

“Minnesota residents attending the Twin Cities campus now pay $10,756 a year in tuition and fees. (With room, board, and books that grows to about $21,000.)”

“There is also mounting pressure on universities to hold down costs. Questions about expenses are becoming more pointed: Why build that multi-million-dollar athletic complex? Why pay your president more than $400,000? “

“House and Senate education committees are taking their deepest look yet at how the University of Minnesota spends its money, questioning new programs and faculty compensation.”

“ Sen. Claire Robling, the ranking minority member of the higher education committee believes that the U should tap reserves, cut compensation, and narrow its mission before raising tuition.”

The next article in the series should be interesting: “Monday: Legislators, critics tell colleges: Show us the money.”

April 25, 2009

Back in the Saddle Again

The good news is that the U of M law school is back to the select 20 in the latest US News rankings.

The bad news is that it may not really mean much.

Jeff Harrison has some tongue-in-cheek suggestions to law schools about how to game the system in their favor:

For those willing to go all the way, if you'll forgive my terminology, here are some ideas:

1. The 90% transfer student law school. Yes, admit a class of 10 with LSATs of 178 and GPAs of 4.0 (or even higher -- report 5.0 for the students who took advance placement college courses assuming they exist and, if they do not, just assume they do.) The rest of the students are transfers.

2. Get those acceptance percentages down. Potential applicants are selling cheap if they will settle for itune downloads. What about a $100 J.Crew gift certificate for applying? Cold cash is also perfectly acceptable. If each school will do this many good things happen. 1) My unemployed children can make a living by being professional applicants, 2) I will open an Expresso-like business and take a small percentage for submitting an application for my clients to every single law school in the country. There are any talented potential professional applicants in nursing homes, pre schools, and prison. I am pretty sure this is Pareto superior. The clients are happy, I am happy, and Law Schools will all have huge applicant pools and low acceptance percentages.

3. Pay the graduates of other schools not to work. Once you have hired every one of your own out-of-work graduates you hit 100% and that is as far as you can go. If you are serious about becoming a better law school (Opps, higher ranked school) pay the graduates of schools close to yours in the rankings to stay home. Yes, we are talking about a possible bidding war for law school graduates to do anything but work. (It's like a new occupation for which you are qualified only if you have a law degree.) Right now these unemployed grads think they have no leverage at all. Life to them, . . . well, sucks. In fact, they have tremendous leverage any time they threaten to become gainfully employed. They can auction off their right to take a job. This sounds more than faintly Coasian. After all, the law school placing the highest value on having the graduates of other law schools stay home wins and, winning by paying is efficient.

4. Be proactive about lowering the student-faculty ratio. Are there any maintenance workers, landscapers, or secretaries at your schools? Were you getting ready to say "yes." WRONG! They are now part of the faculty and, most likely, deservedly so. (I don't know, visiting-adjunct-lecturer sounds good). And those potential applicants at nursing homes, pre schools and prisons also make excellent faculty for distance learning. Your faculty swells and your ratio falls.

When you think about it, law schools are just scratching the surface of ways to improve.

To celebrate the U law school's return to the top 20:

"We ask for your input..."

Sadly, what follows is all too typical of the way input is solicited at the U of M. Notice of the meeting goes out on a Friday - Fri, Apr 24, 2009 at 11:59 PM. We are invited to go to the web and learn about the U's sustainability goals over the weekend for a meeting on Monday. And this is some sort of party weekend for the undergrads because of impending finals.

"Please join us and provide your viewpoint." Yah, fer sure.... Thanks a lot for another opportunity to provide input, Professor Swackhamer and Vice President O'Brien. Sadly this is pretty much expected procedure around here. Why I'll bet it is even considered a best practice by our administration.

From a blanket email:

Dear members of the University Community:

For the past year, University faculty, staff and students from all campuses have been working together to develop goals and measures to implement the Regents’ Policy on Sustainability and Energy Efficiency (2004).

Preliminary goals and measures have now been drafted and the University Sustainability Goals and Outcomes Committee is hosting open forums to gather input regarding the goals. Please join us next week for one of two open forums on the Twin Cities campus. The open forums are scheduled for Monday, April 27 from 2:30 to 4:00 in room 3-100 Mayo, and on Tuesday, April 28 from 2:30 to 4:00 in room 105 Cargill. Everyone is welcome to attend.

The forums will include a brief presentation about the proposed goals and outcomes followed by open dialogue and discussion. To review the goals prior to the meetings and to find additional information, please visit the University's Sustainability Web site.

We recognize that this is an especially busy time in the academic calendar,
but hope that you will be able to participate in this process to shape the future of the campus environment. Transformation to a Sustainable U requires leadership, commitment to organizational change, and an actively engaged University community. Please join us and provide your viewpoint.


Professor Deborah Swackhamer, Sustainability Goals Co-Chair
Vice President Kathleen O'Brien, Sustainability Goals Co-Chair

Sustainability Goals and Outcomes
Open Forums

Monday April 27
2:30 – 4:00 p.m.
3-100 Mayo

Tuesday April 28
2:30 – 4:00 p.m.
105 Cargill

The Graduate School - Like a Phoenix From the Ashes?

“Recommendations on the Oversight and Support of Graduate
Education at the University of Minnesota”
April 24, 2009

From the document:

Based on conversations within the University community, as well as examination of administrative structures for education at peer institutions, the committee concluded that a strong, central administrative entity is essential for oversight and support of quality graduate programs. At most universities this central entity is a Graduate School or a combined Graduate School and Office of Research.

The committee considered three possible organizational structures for administering graduate education at the University of Minnesota. The first of these is an Office of Graduate Education, led by a Vice Provost and Dean, and administratively housed within the Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, as proposed in the February 9 restructuring plan. The second possibility is a recombination of the Graduate School with the Office of the Vice President for Research, led by a Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School. Finally, the third possibility is a streamlined version of the existing Graduate School, henceforth called the “Graduate College” to differentiate it from the current Graduate School.

In discussing these possibilities, the committee decided not to recommend a combined Graduate School and Office of the Vice President for Research. The committee reasoned that the current Office of the Vice President for Research has done an excellent job of focusing attention on critical research-related matters such as technology transfer, regulatory issues, and expanded research opportunities, and the additional work associated with management of graduate education would inevitably detract from these efforts. In addition, it would probably be necessary to appoint a senior associate dean to oversee graduate education activities (as is done, for example, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Pennsylvania State University), so the leader of the office (the Vice President and Dean) would be more involved with research matters than with graduate student education.

The committee does recommend, however, that certain current activities of the Graduate School most related to the research function of the University, including the Grant-in-Aid of Research, Artistry and Scholarship program and McKnight Awards be moved to the Office of the Vice President for Research.

The committee is divided on the question of whether the central entity responsible for oversight of graduate education at the University of Minnesota should be an Office of Graduate Education or a Graduate College (as defined above). In both cases the operations would be led by a Vice Provost and Dean who reports to the Provost and is responsible for oversight and leadership of issues related to graduate education. In the case of an Office of Graduate Education, however, the operation would be an administrative unit, parallel in structure to the existing Office of Undergraduate Education, and not an academic unit comparable to other colleges and professional schools. Resolving this issue will require University-wide consultation. While the distinction might seem minor, some committee members (and many people in the University community) feel strongly that the presence of a Graduate College (School) gives graduate education at the University of Minnesota a more recognizable identity among peer institutions. Other members of the committee believe that the name and reporting structure are less important than the operational efficiency and effectiveness of the unit responsible for oversight of graduate education functions.

Regardless of the administrative structure adopted for graduate education at the University of Minnesota, the committee recommends that a strong component of faculty and student governance be maintained. Faculty and student governance is particularly important in relation to matters of program oversight and review, policy, and allocation of student and faculty fellowships. Either structure, however, will need to be efficient and accountable in delivering excellent graduate education. While the Graduate College/Office will need to be more flexible and streamlined than the current Graduate School, the committee recommends that experienced Graduate School staff should be employed in the new unit.

This report is quite remarkable, given the original charge: to implement OurCEO's decision for engulfment of the Graduate School by OurProvost's office.

I hope that OurCEO and OurProvost will think very carefully about these recommendations and the comments that they are certain to elicit. The original charge and the lack of proper consultation were a mistake on the part of our administration for which they have never so much as apologized.

To go back and do what was originally proposed, at this point, and claim that the consultative requirement has been met would be a classic example of a Pyrrhic victory.

April 24, 2009

UD Nails a Macho, Macho, Doc

From University Diaries:

Macho, macho man.

UD likes macho men.

She can’t help it. She was socialized into it by a sexist society and now it’s too late. Hope perhaps lies in future generations.

When pertinent, UD likes to point out on this blog instances of her attraction to academic rogues, rascals, rakes and randies, pre-impotence Hemingways swaggering the quad…

Today she likes the Harvard professor featured in this Crimson story, a med school guy going after Grassley and the other “quasi-religious” pharmascolds who worry about conflict of interest.

He argues that “physicians should be free to determine on their own if [an industry] gift is a bribe.”

How exactly would this work?

“This gift is a bribe. Great. I can use the money.”

No, no. And here’s where UD begins to pant a bit. “If people do bad things,” says her man, “shoot them.”

I also like how he describes the current turmoil over the issue: “Now there’s some skin in the game.” Meaning now doctors are getting pissed because the rules are changing and they’re losing money. Life’s a rugby match, baby, and Grassley’s pissing off the other side and he better look out!

Of course in Minnesota, we are all nice...

To continue the macho theme:

April 23, 2009

Governor Pawlenty Tweets


Governor Pawlenty is now using Twitter. I guess it is only a matter of time until our crack administrators start to do this, especially the great conversationalist - that would be OurProvost.

We had some grad students and their husbands/wives over for dinner last weekend. One of them was quite the Twitter expert and made me feel old and non-techie. So I started a Twitter account to feel a little less ancient. Students - and my wife - are always giving me a bad time about not having a cell phone. It is possible to get tweets routed to the Daily web-page - a feature of some utility.

In celebration of our new tweeting governor:

A Tip of the Hat to Professor Gary Schwitzer -

Maggie Mahar at the U with documentary: Money Driven Medicine


Michigan - A Preview of Coming Attractions for the U?

Maybe emulating Michigan and trying to be "one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]" is not such a great idea after all?

From Time:

In just a few weeks, nearly ten thousand students will rise en masse inside Michigan Stadium and join the ranks of the alumni of one of the nation's premier universities. They'll walk away from the University of Michigan with a top notch education, but also the distinction of possibly being one of the last graduating classes of a genuinely public institution.

The cash-strapped state of Michigan is looking to save money any way it can, and some political leaders have suggested essentially privatizing the state's flagship university.Which means that in order to survive, the university may have to make dramatic changes that could threaten its character.

Michigan's long-serving 19th-century president James Angell used to say that the school provided "an uncommon education for the common man." But many are starting to wonder if that mission is still possible. And Michigan is not the only public university in crisis. As states across the country face budget shortfalls, leading schools like the universities of Wisconsin, North Carolina and Virginia increasingly depend on support from outside their home states, either in the form of philanthropy or in top tuition rates paid by a growing number of wealthy out-of-state students. The result has already been a quasi-privatization of some of the nation's top research institutions and the economic stratification of their student bodies.

James Duderstadt, UM president from 1988 to 1996, has argued for years that it is a misnomer to call schools like the University of Michigan "state universities." The state's annual contribution to the school's operating budget is now less than 6%, about half the share that California puts into its state schools and roughly the same level as Virginia. "The state is our smallest minority shareholder," says Duderstadt.

The state's financial role has in fact been shrinking throughout the past decade as its economy foundered. Last year, the university provost's office complained in a report to the Board of Regents that the state's "assumed allocation will put our state appropriation at a level that is almost $34 million lower than the amount that was appropriated for FY2002, in nominal dollars, and nearly $100 million lower in inflation-adjusted dollars." At the same time, the university has helped prop up the struggling local economy by approving more than $500 million in construction and renovation projects.

Traditionally, state universities provided an affordable education for its residents by offering subsidized in-state tuition. Non-residents now make up 37% of undergraduates at the university; add graduate students and nearly half the university's students comes from out-of-state. A leading public university like University of California at Berkeley, by contrast, only pulls 8% of its undergraduates from outside California.

The temptation for Michigan to substantially increase its revenue by accepting more non-residents who are eager to attend has to be hard to resist.

"It was the state support that allowed us to have that public character," Duderstadt argues. As that support drops, student bodies are becoming not only more national but also more stratified. "We still promise that no Michigan student will ever be denied the opportunity to attend for financial reasons," Duderstadt says. "But that means we can't provide help for students from out-of-state. So the economic distribution for them is significantly different from those in-state." One fairly reliable measure of the economic diversity of a campus is the percentage of students who receive Pell Grants. Roughly 30% of the undergraduates at UCLA or UC-Berkeley are Pell Grant recipients. At Michigan, by contrast, that number is only around 12%.

So far, public universities like Michigan have been confident about their ability to attract enough wealthy out-of-state students to help fill their coffers. But it will become difficult to continue competing with private institutions if they cannot simultaneously expand their research capacity and recruit top-flight faculty. For just $5,000 more in tuition, an out-of-state student could forgo Michigan for New York University, the nation's largest private school with nearly double the number of faculty. In recent years, international enrollments at American public universities has also dropped as more students turn to premier schools in Europe and Asia.

"In other parts of the world," says Duderstadt, "countries view it as a national interest to build institutions of world-class quality. The U.S. is unique in not having a national strategy for maintaining world-class universities."

But as Michigan and other top public universities are learning, fight songs and sports fans aren't enough to finance a first class education.

Redundant Children's Hospital Coming Back to Haunt U?

Minnesota Hospitals in Dire Straits

And yet we can, apparently, afford a new children's hospital that prices out at about two million dollars per bed….

From the Pioneer-Press:

Minnesota hospitals detail dire fallout of state cuts Health leaders lay out services threatened by budget reductions

By Jeremy Olson

Minnesota hospitals threatened Wednesday to cut health care services for patients suffering from diabetes, mental illness and other diseases if Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Legislature approve steep budget reductions this year.

Pawlenty's plan to remove as many as 93,000 Minnesotans from state-subsidized health programs would require hospitals to save every penny to care for the rising number of uninsured patients, hospital leaders argued.

They said there would be nothing left to pay for support programs the hospitals provide on their own to help patients manage their conditions and remain healthy at home.

"It's unfortunate that most of the changes will come at a time when the services are most needed by people in the community," said Mark Eustis, president and CEO of Fairview Health Services.

The health system, which operates the University of Minnesota Medical Center and six other hospitals, predicts a loss of $100 million in revenue over the next two years under Pawlenty's budget cuts.

Fairview said its training of medical students would decline, and all of the hospitals said they would scale back mental health care.

Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul said it would eliminate transportation services and a nursing hot line.

Mahnomen Health Center said it would park a mobile

Hospital officials spoke at a hearing at the state Capitol organized by Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, and other House leaders.

And while they clamor for more funding each year, the backdrop of their latest warnings suggests they are reaching the brink. The major health systems in the Twin Cities have cut more than 1,500 jobs since last fall because of investment losses and the rising cost of caring for the uninsured and patients who can't pay their bills.

While the governor recognizes the difficult circumstances for the hospitals, spokesman Brian McClung said, everyone must do some "belt tightening." McClung said a projected 20 percent increase in state health care spending is unsustainable.

"As those programs grow at a pace that's out of control," he said, "they take limited funding away from other priorities like K-12 education and public safety."

Some critics point out that metro hospitals provide redundant and competitive services that have bloated health care costs. One notable example was the failure of two pediatric organizations to consolidate and build a single facility,
but all hospitals have been buying redundant medical technology to compete.

Latest from the House

From the Daily:

BY Devin Henry

PUBLISHED: 04/22/2009

The House of Representatives passed a higher education funding bill on Wednesday that would keep the University of Minnesota’s yearly funding at nearly current levels each of the next two years.

The bill amounted to a more than 10 percent cut in state support for higher education during 2010-11 , but the difference was made up with more than $361.8 million in federal stimulus funding . The bill would give more than $1.4 billion in funding to the University.

The bill comes with a 3 percent tuition cap, using stimulus funds to keep any possible tuition increase to around $300 per student.

“The stimulus money really helped us,” the bill’s sponsor Rep. Tom Rukavina , DFL-Virginia, said. “Thank heavens it was there.”

Language in the bill that would have eliminated state funding for University biomedical research buildings was removed from the bill last week , but the bill retained provisions that would require the University to sell alcohol to everyone of legal age at TCF Bank Stadium, as well as a controversial provision that would force state schools and universities to sell only American-made apparel in their bookstores.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, proposed an amendment to remove the provision, saying a college in his district had told him 100 percent of the clothing sold in their bookstore was not made in the United States and the bill would hurt schools’ ability to raise money.

“This is a very, very poor provision,” Seifert said.

The amendment failed.

Conference committee coming

On Friday, the Senate passed their version of the higher education bill. It would cut more than 4 percent from the University next biennium, as well as propose a further 8 percent cut in the 2012-13 funding years.

A conference committee will convene to hammer out differences between the two bills.

Before passing the bill 41-23 on Friday, much of the Senate’s debate centered on the size of the cut.
“This higher education budget would not pass the House,” Sen. Geoff Michel , R-Edina, said during the debate. “It would not pass the governor [Republican Tim Pawlenty ].”

Pawlenty has proposed a budget plan that is very similar to the House’s plan in the upcoming funding years.

“This [cut] is very difficult for a lot of us,” Sen. Sandra Pappas , DFL-St. Paul, said on the Senate floor. “It means we’re going in the wrong direction, not the right direction … However, we do have a constitution and our [Minnesota] Constitution says that we have to balance the budget, so we have no choice.”

April 22, 2009

A Grimm Fairy Tale

[Thanks to UD for noting this piece on her blog.]

From In these times:

Most of us delude ourselves that we are either too ethical to indulge self-interest, or too wealthy and important to allow ‘minor’ perks to sway us.

University of Minnesota medical researcher Dr. Richard Grimm believes he was uninfluenced by the $800,000 that drug companies paid him while he served on government-sponsored panels to create guidelines for prescribing blood pressure pills. “There’s this automatic assumption that if you make money from a drug company, you must be corrupt,” Grimm recently told the New York Times, presumably asserting he was not.

Lewis Morris does not believe in moral fairy tales, even when told by a Grimm.
“Somehow physicians think they’re different from the rest of us,” the chief counsel to the inspector general of Health and Human Services told the Times. “But money works on them just like everybody else.”

How do people with conflicts of interest sleep at night? Pretty well, thinks psychology professor Paul Thagard. “People naturally have personal goals that may conflict with their professional responsibilities,” he writes, but they “usually remain unaware that they are acting immorally.”

Because motivations are murky—even to ourselves—the best strategy is not only legally barring conflicts of interest, but also the appearance of them.

April 20, 2009

The U of M Google Endowment

I thank a reader for pointing out this earlier indication of why Stuart Mason is so enthralled with Google.

Wow, Stuart, you and Google have a history:

The Google Endowment

We don't pretend to be great investors here -- we work for a newspaper, after all! But every time Google stock soars to a new record high, it's hard not to think back about what might have been a continuing gold mine for the University of Minnesota.

The U endowment ten years ago put roughly $150,000 into a partnership led by the California venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. The partnership included a stake in a little-known startup called Google.

Google, of course, became huge. When its stock started trading publicly in 2004, the U's seed investment translated into some 250,000 shares at about 47 cents to 50 cents a share. The stock went crazy, and the U began liquidating its position. By the middle of 2005, the U had sold its initial Google holdings for about $195 a share on average, bringing the university close to $50 million.

I reported those facts in early 2006 as part of a story on the endowment and its dramatic shift away from tradtional U.S. stock investments and into real estate, hedge funds, junk bonds and other alternative investments.

At that point Google was trading at about $400 a share but Stuart Mason, the endowment's chief investment officer, wasn't losing sleep over selling off the Google stake. "We are so happy, we can't stand it," he said then.

Google this morning broke $700 a share, nearly twice its price of two years ago and more than three times as much as what the U got for its shares. Had the U held onto its chunk, it'd be worth about $175 million -- or more than 10 percent of the entire endowment.

It's hard to complain about a $50 million payoff on an investment. But, wow, if they'd held onto the Google shares, there'd be a lot of high-fives this morning and lots of talk about the good times continuing to roll. Stock analysts expect Google's per-share earnings to jump more than 30 percent next fiscal year.

-- Paul Tosto

In English, you blew it Stuart. And so we should trust you with more of our money to invest in secret? I don't think so.

More on the Graduate School Closing Fiasco

From the minutes (Committee on Finance and Planning 2/17/09:

Professor Warwick asked if the question about the future of the Graduate School will come to this Committee. It will not, Professor Martin said; the Faculty Consultative Committee is actively addressing the issues raised. Professor Warwick expressed disappointment over the decision and said the Graduate School is one of the strongest elements of the University; eliminating it would weaken the stature of the University. Professor Martin said many people feel that way but it is not an appropriate issue for this Committee.

Professor Konstan noted that the Provost has said any savings will go back into graduate education. But it is not clear there will be any savings and said he did not like the model that the University uses: dedicating funds from a unit that has been shut down to the activities that were shut down.
It seems disingenuous to say that any saved money will not be used to deal with the $75 million reduction in state funding. Professor Martin said the Committee could inquire of the Provost about any potential savings from the decision and how that money would be used.

Mr. Klein noted that the Provost's letter indicates some services will go to the colleges; some money should follow in order to handle the increased workload. The Committee should ask for accountability for the funds and not just accept the emphasis on savings. Professor Martin agreed there should be no unfunded mandates.

The U still can't explain the waste

Questions for President Bruiniks:

To reduce the cost of administration, whey don't you:
1. Cut your own $740 K compensation package by 10-20%
2. Cut all administrative salaries at the U that are above 250K$ by 10%
3. Count the administrators. Report the number. Pledge to cut this number by 10%

From the Daily:

BY Ross Anderson

The U still can’t explain the waste

Discussing the budget is thorny business; the U’s silence on the issue of inflated administrators speaks loudly.

To the reader: I am sorry; I have failed you. I spent my week trying to understand the University of Minnesota’s budget, after many hours poring over the numbers and seeking council, I’ll say plainly, I still don’t get it.

When people like myself, University professors Judith A. Martin, Timothy Brennan, Eva von Dassow, and University Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter IV attempt to explain the University’s massive, sprawling budget on the opinion pages of newspapers, our words will most likely only serve to confuse rather than to clarify.

For example, when Pfutzenreuter explains that included in the institutional support budget category are “changes in the way utility costs are recorded … [And] a change in the methodology for recording fringe benefit costs,” no one is likely to know what he is talking about (I sure didn’t) but a proper explanation of each term would probably require another 1,000-word commentary.

I spoke with Pfutzenreuter late Friday afternoon; I don’t suspect he was intentionally being vague, only doing his best to explain the unexplainable (at least in 1,000 words).

He explained the quotation above has much to do with federally mandated reorganization of labels and coding, and the actual spending is something different than what is represented on the budget, or as he explains, “a budget plan is not the same as actual spending.” To which I wonder, is it not the purpose of a budget plan to detail actual spending? It’s all very confusing to a guy who usually avoids numbers, but that just seems like common sense.

All this is not to say that the week was without interesting revelation. To the contrary, I did confirm my sneaking suspicion of widespread bureaucratic waste at our University. Last week’s column induced a lot of e-mails from staff, faculty and alumni. Each e-mail offered praise, and most went on to explain dysfunction seen from their own particular perspective. For obvious reasons, none of these people were willing to go on the record. (Never a good idea to bite the bureaucratic hand that feeds you, which I learned the hard way in the Army.)

An e-mail from one alumnus and self-proclaimed “old-timer” offered to treat me to lunch, also offering this greenhorn idealist some much-needed advice.

After we met I learned that he was indeed an old-timer, with the street smarts, and grandpa-like wisdom to prove it. His advice in summation: Yeah, you get it kid. Things are a mess around here, same way as in my day. But nothing’s going to change, and rocking the boat will only get you in trouble. (For the journalists and editors of this newspaper, much of the conversation was dedicated to this old-timer criticizing today’s Daily press corps as compared to the days when Daily reporting exposed and dethroned former University President Ken Keller. He thinks we’re soft. Let’s prove him wrong.)

It’s ironic that Pfutzenreuter choose to reference my hero Thomas Jefferson in his commentary refuting the assertions of his colleagues and this column. He quoted Jefferson’s observation that “the most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do” (hinting that my commentary is superfluous).

The fact remains that neither Pfutzenreuter nor Martin addressed the most egregious offense mentioned in this column and in the original commentary in the Star Tribune.

In the face of budget shortfalls, at a time of hiring pauses, and cutting of programs that directly assist the student body, the University continues to employ high-paid vice presidents and associate vice presidents whose value has been called into question; to this point, the University has been mute. They also thought a proposed faculty salary cap at $250,000 was unworthy of mention. Whether their silence is an admission of fault is now my question.

How many lower-level, student services staff/faculty can you hire with just a single vice president’s salary, travel and other assorted expenses? My guess is about five (a modest estimate I suspect). That’s one vice president or associate vice president instead of five working-class, real people (people that you can actually see) helping us to become better educated.

For my money, I’ll take the efforts of five regular Joes over the contribution of a single vice president any day.
It is the contention of this administration, and especially University President Bob Bruininks, that a single vice president or associate vice president is more valuable than the five employees that won’t be hired or will be laid-off. As for this columnist, considering the duties of vice presidents are not easily discernable and that these people are mostly invisible to the student body, I wholly disagree.

When I spoke with Pfutzenreuter and our conversation slid to the topic of vice presidents and general waste, it was suddenly time for “other meetings.”

But he did make something very clear, one man holds the power over these questionable vice presidents: Bob Bruininks.

By the time you read this, I will already have requested a meeting. Stay tuned.

April 18, 2009

Francis Fukuyama: "Let's get rid of tenure."

UD posts on FF's suggestion. A little while back, some administrators at the U of M were saying the same thing. People like William Brody, Leo Furcht, and some on the Board of Regents. For the back story look up Tenure Wars and the University of Minnesota. We are still suffering aftershock from this brilliant idea…

From University Diaries.

[FF's comments are in bold and UD's response is highlighted.]

Francis Fukuyama…

… says get rid of tenure.

I’m a tenured professor. But I’d get rid of tenure.

At first glance, a pithy, hard-hitting opening. Yet if Fukuyama's opposed to tenure, he's always free to turn it down, as a number of professors in this country have done. They negotiate various forms of non-tenured contracts with their institutions. It can be done -- perhaps not at all schools, but at many. So from the outset, Fukuyama looks cowardly or hypocritical. If tenure should be abolished, be an example.

Tenure was created to protect academic freedom after a series of 19th-century cases when university donors or legislators tried to remove professors whose views they disliked. One famous instance in the late 1800s involved progressive movement leader Richard Ely, whose critics accused him of socialism and tried to remove him as an economics professor at the University of Wisconsin.

The rationale for tenure is still valid. But the system has turned the academy into one of the most conservative and costly institutions in the country. Yes, conservative: Economists joke that their discipline advances one funeral at a time, but many fields must wait for wholesale generational turnover before new approaches take hold.

As with his first point, his second has an internal unsteadiness to it. Fukuyama both concedes the link between tenure and intellectual freedom, and attacks tenure as the cause of intellectual sclerosis. Presumably, with the abolition of tenure a host of intellectual freedom problems will arise. Why should we get rid of one flawed system in order to introduce another?

The system also hamstrings younger untenured professors, making them fearful of taking intellectual risks and causing them to write in jargon aimed only at those in their narrow subdiscipline: Thus in economics, people have “utility functions” instead of needs and wants.

Wow. Try being an English professor. Utility functions sounds like a breath of fresh air... But put that aside. Fukuyama is about to defend think tanks as a model of non-tenuring intellectual institutions, but almost all think tanks are ideologically driven in a very obvious way, so I don't see how they would respond to this problem. And as for the problem itself: The numbers don't lie. Most universities tenure most of the people who come up for it. At some universities, the figure is almost one hundred percent. Junior faculty should check the figures, calm down, and write what they want to write....  And really - on the matter of jargon -  let us recall Ecclesiastes:  Of the making of much jargon there is no end. I doubt people write this way because they're afraid they won't get tenure.  I think they write this way because most conform, and this is the way many other people are writing.  Professors who use jargon don't suddenly become fresh and pellucid after they get tenure.  As Fukuyama points out, tenure has always been about protecting the intellectual freedom of the few people who don't conform.

These problems are made worse by a federal employment law that bars universities from instituting mandatory retirement. Deans and provosts can’t remove elderly professors who take up slots that could fund two or three younger colleagues. Two developments are about to exacerbate this problem: a decline in university enrollments as the baby echo generation passes through college, reducing overall demand for professors; and the financial crisis, which has decimated professors’ retirement savings, giving them incentive to hold on to their sinecures even longer.

Actually, there are many things that universities can do to deal with this admittedly significant problem. Buy-outs, offers of gradually reduced teaching and hence gradually reduced salary ...

Things don’t have to be this way. Academic freedom can thrive in think tanks and research institutes.

Let me say again what I say above. Think of almost any think tank - Brookings, Heritage, CATO. They're wonderful places for strengthening the visibility of liberal or conservative or libertarian thought, but they lack the non-ideological atmosphere of universities. And yes, UD's aware that some university departments are themselves very ideological. But that's not a permanent, definitive characteristic of them, and things can and do change.

U.S.-style tenure doesn’t exist in Britain or Australia.

I'd hesitate to point to Britain's faltering university system as a model.

Japan grants tenure but forces professors to retire at a relatively early age (60 at Tokyo University).

Is Fukuyama endorsing state-mandated retirement? Seems out of step with his other political positions.

The freedom guaranteed by tenure is precious. But it’s time to abolish this institution before it becomes too costly, both financially and intellectually.

Openness and Transparency at the University? In Your Dreams....

[Note added (4/19/09) the Strib has picked up on the Daily story.]

Mr. Mason and the money he is going to make?

Mason [University chief investment officer] said he would like to see the University begin to make more money.

“Thirty [million dollars] to $50 million means a lot of scholarships and life-saving research that won’t get done if they don’t pass this bill,” Mason said.

To which I say - horse hockey.

Read the article below. This character has the gall to suggest that transparency is costing the University lots of millions of dollars because they can't invest in the next Google and get annual returns on investments of thirty percent. It is exactly this greedy, arrogant, and NON-TRANSPARENT activity that has gotten us in the mess we are currently in. It is a sad day, indeed, when a University official would make the statement to be found above and below.

Given the University's appalling record on openness and transparency in the last few years, the Daily reports some very disturbing activities on this front.

From the Daily:

Legislators are currently discussing a bill that would restrict public access to some financial decisions regarding the University of Minnesota’s endowment.

Specifically, the bill — on both the House and Senate floors — would prevent the public from accessing information about private venture capital investments that could cause competitive harm to the University or its investments.

Stuart Mason, University chief investment officer, said this bill, if passed, would make it easier for the University to find smart investments and could help increase the endowment — which is about $910 million.

Certain venture capital groups have discontinued or avoided relationships with the University because of the current Data Practices Act, which allows public access to its investments, Mason said.

He said the current access to information could prevent the University’s endowment from profiting off of the next Google, for example.

Most venture capitalist groups have told Mason that the University cannot invest with them if “competitive information” can be accessed through a DPA or Freedom of Information Act request.
“There has been a trend where we have been consistently excluded from investment partners,” he said.

Mason said the access of information allows other groups to see who the University is investing with and creates a competitive disadvantage because they cannot hide their good investments from competitors.

If this bill passes, the endowment could see increases between $30 and $40 million per year because some of the venture capital groups denying the University produce up to a 30 percent return on investments each year, Mason said.

Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley , said University officials came to him with this proposal about a year ago. Betzold, one of the co-authors of the Senate bill, said he supports the bill because it could help raise money for the University.

“If you’re saying the University has an opportunity to increase some of its funds and make great returns that are going to help the financial stability of its investments, I think most people would say that’s a good idea,” Betzold said.

But not everyone agrees that the University profiting by hiding public information is a good idea.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha , said he thinks Minnesotans should be able to see where their money is going.

“If we’re shutting off people’s access to information about where their money goes, then the government is failing to be responsible to the people,” Drazkowski said.

The government should be transparent, Drazkowski said, and the passage of this bill would cause a sense of mistrust between the public and the government.

He also said the bill could send the message that the government is trying to make money.

“Government wasn’t created to make money,” Drazkowski said. “Government was created to serve the interest of the people, and we need to remember that and make that clear.”

Mason said one reason he thinks this bill could pass is because a similar bill passed in 2004 restricting public access to the Minnesota State Board of Investments.

Drazkowski said this precedent should not be a deciding factor for this bill and thinks the 2004 bill should be reconsidered.

While both current bills are a part of omnibus bills and could pass through the Senate and House, they still have to be signed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Mason said he would like to see the University begin to make more money.

“Thirty [million dollars] to $50 million means a lot of scholarships and life-saving research that won’t get done if they don’t pass this bill,” Mason said.


President Robert Bruininks, State of the University Address (2009)

Bob, how does this plea for secrecy NOT contradict what you've said?

April 17, 2009

Possible Cause For Water Problems in U Health Sciences Buildings?

From the comment section of the Minnesota Daily:

Reply to: Contaminated tap water closes clinics 6 min 56 sec ago Anti-freeze - not a mystery situation

I understand from a contact in F & M that recently hired mechanic (unfamiliar with building systems) did not understand how to do maintenance on water lines in 10 story buildings. They caused antifreeze to be pulled into the drinking water lines. The U has been using general mechanics (laid off from NWA) to do building work they are not qualified to handle. Given this is a serious environmental health issue, it deserves further investigation.

HR Spamogram

"HR Budget Strategies Update

These are challenging economic times. Our University budget is still in flux, and while stimulus money may give us more time to adjust, we know that serious cuts are necessary. With 70 percent of the University’s budget supporting faculty and staff, we likely will all share the burden of this economic crisis. In Human Resources, we are working hard to develop initiatives that address the need to better reduce costs and support our employees. As we face the very difficult road ahead, we are prepared to assist you in every way possible."

Serious cuts are necessary?

How about:

A cut of 10-20% in OurLeader's ~740K$ compensation package.

A cut of 10% in the NUMBER of administrators

A cut of 10% for administrators making more than 250K$

It will obviously be easier for the peons to accept cuts if they are shared by the administration.

How about some leadership in this area, President Bruininks?

Is the University Suffering From the Malady of Taj Mahalitis?

Next U of M Building Project?

Jim Chen is a former University of Minnesota law school faculty member who is now the dean at the University of Louisville. His excellent and always thought-provoking pieces appear on the blog Moneylaw, that is "dedicated to the art of winning an unfair academic game." How do those of us, further down the academic totem pole with respect to both resources and what passes for reputation, compete with the so-called Big Boys and Girls? See dean Chen's blog.

He has another outstanding piece,
"Wilkins Micawber, dean and professor of law," from which I will quote liberally.

It starts with my all-time favorite Dickens quote:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

This he interprets as: "Live within your means."

Then follows:

I've learned this much in the past year and a half: Never let an economic crisis go to waste. The catastrophic decline in economic fortunes around the world has not spared American higher education, and that disaster gives moral succor to those of us who find our highest calling in doing more for our students with less from our endowments and appropriations.

The broader economy is witnessing the resurgence of the gleefully frugal: recession-happy people who "happily seek new ways to economize and take pride in outsaving the Joneses" by living a "mantra [of] cut, cut, cut — magazine and cable subscriptions, credit cards, fancy coffee drinks and your own hair." This phenomenon “implies a re-emergence of thrift as a value.”

A similar revival should sweep American higher education. Let me be clear about what I mean. I vehemently oppose hatchet jobs on educational budgets. In full accord with Leon Botstein, I believe that a recession is a time for expanding, not contracting, the academy's instructional resources. If you have to freeze something for its own sake, something I'd strongly oppose in any forum where I had a voice, I'd much rather freeze salaries (especially, and exclusively if I could, at the high end) than hiring.

But not all spending is equal.
No less than private companies, universities are susceptible to what Herman Holtz, 100 Ways to Boost Your Firm's Profitability, has called "Taj Mahalitis." Ambitious, financially marginal organizations can easily fall victim to the urge to splurge, to present themselves to customers and competitors alike in grandiose fashion.

Perhaps it is time for President Bruininks, Provost Sullivan, Provost and soon-to-be Provost/Dean, Frank Cerra, to join the ranks of the gleefully frugal?

Perhaps they need to consult an interpreter of maladies?

April 16, 2009

Legislative Updates: The Devil Is In The Details

from Caroline Hayes and Martin Sampson:

The details of the House committee bill in its first version include, among others:


Elimination of three biomedical science buildings the legislature authorized last year,

Tuition may not increase by more than 3% in each year of the 2010-2011 biennium,

Students are guaranteed the same tuition rate for all four years of an undergraduate career (in other words, each class would have a distinctive annual tuition rate, a system that Illinois has used and that in the past was available to U of M students.)


Stores on U of M and MnSCU campuses may not sell clothing that is not made in America,

State money may not be used to fund new administrative positions or increase administrative salaries.

The Regents must increase enrollment of Minnesota resident freshman with the goal of reaching at least the proportion of Minnesota resident undergraduates enrolled in the U in the 2006-07 year.


Some (most?) of this may not go through. Regular readers will recognize, however, that many of these items have previously been whined about by me on this blog as well as on the Periodic Table.

The conclusion to this sad tale will certainly be most intereting...

April 15, 2009

Ding Dong Bell, II

Gov. Pawlenty’s response to a new Bell Museum

From the Daily:

04/14/2009 John Greiling

In Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s recent interview on Minnesota Public Radio , the governor spoke about not funding the new Bell Museum the University of Minnesota is requesting to build. He said the state of Minnesota has little funding as it is and needs to set out priorities. He clearly answered a student’s question on the air and made me realize that he is right. Although it would be nice to have a renovated new museum, there is no dire need to and the state shouldn’t have to pay for it.

April 14, 2009

How Do We Evaluate A University's Performance?

Is the University of Minnesota an Under- or Over-Performer?

Although rankings of universities are certainly a matter for debate, the data available from some of these exercises, especially that of US News, can provide some valuable and thought provoking information for prospective students and their parents. University administrators would do well to think about them and use this information to make rational improvements in the way they operate.

Would you send your son or daughter to an institution that has a much better graduation rate for its students (say 20% better) than would be expected based on the characteristics of an incoming class or would you send them to one that underperformed and actually had a lower graduation rate (4% lower) than would be expected?

One little noticed feature of the 2009 version of US News rankings is an analysis of graduation rates for 2007. After all, it seems reasonable to ask: given an input set of students with certain credentials, how well does an institution do in graduating these students.

Institutions who admit very well-qualified students should have a high graduation rate and those whose standards are somewhat less rigorous might have lower rates.

Thus a new statistic is available described as Overperformance (+) and Underperformance (-).

So to take the example of Harvard: their predicted 2007 graduation rate is 94% and their actual rate is 97%. Their performance score is +3, because students actually graduate at a slightly higher rate than would be expected, based on their entrance characteristics.

According to USNews,

Graduation rate performance " … [is] an indicator of added value [that] shows the effect of the colleges programs and policies on the graduation rate of students after controlling for spending and student characteristics such as the proportion receiving Pell grants and test scores. We measure the difference between the schools six year graduation rate for the class that entered in 2001 and the rate we predict for that class. If the actual graduation rate is higher than the predicted rate, the college is enhancing achievement."

So how does this work out in practice?

Let's first look at the Big Ten Schools in order of the qualifications of incoming students.

All  BigTen.jpg

Now Northwestern is an anomaly because it is the only private school. Also there is not a whole lot of headroom when your actual graduation rate is 90%+. It is noteworthy, however that the U of M is smack in the middle of the BigTen in terms of entrance qualifications.

So let's put Northwestern aside and redo the list based on performance. The results are quite surprising, I think.

Performance Order.jpg

So here we are, once again, in a familiar place at the bottom of the BigTen as far as this graduation statistic goes. Our next closest rival, 7% above us is the University of Iowa. It is noteworthy that there are five schools in the BigTen whose incoming class has a lower predicted graduation rate than Minnesota. So making noises - as our administration has been doing - about the ever increasing quality of our incoming students is clearly not the answer to the questions raised by the data above.

What is it about Penn State, Indiana, and Michigan State that makes them such overperformers compared to Minnesota? In fact all of the schools of the BigTen, except Minnesota, are overperforming in their graduation rates.

Why is this, President Bruininks and Provost Sullivan?

April 13, 2009

Pay Me Now Or Pay Me Later

From Kare:

Senator takes aim at drug company gifts to doctors

Senator John Marty wants to tighten Minnesota's ban on gifts by drug companies to physicians and other health practitioners. And, in what's perhaps the most controversial element of his bill, the Roseville Democrat wants to apply the same gift ban to medical device makers.

"This is the first state where we'd be trying seriously to bring in medical device manufacturers," Senator Marty told KARE Monday, " We're saying they can keep talking to doctors, in fact they can contract with doctors to do consulting and other work as long as it's not above the standard hourly wage of the doctor."

The medical device industry is expected to oppose Marty's bill when it's heard in committee March 19th at the Capitol. One industry spokesman told KARE there's a reason medical devices were left out of the original ban, because introducing those new technologies requires a close working relationship with the medical professionals who'll be implanting and monitoring them.

Marty said he's not attempting to interfere in that relationship, but to make sure there's no financial incentive for a physician to recommend a particular product.

"You can't give somebody a $10,000 gift for 5 hours of work when really what you're asking them to do is use your product," Marty said.

The existing law requires drug companies to report payments, honoraria or other compensation given to doctors with some exceptions for conferences and educational meetings, provided the company has no control over the content of those sessions.

The Park Nicollet Health Services system voluntarily instituted a system requiring full disclosure of any speaking engagements or paid consulting by staff members on behalf of companies in the health industry.  To assure its patients about any possible conflicts of interest, Park Nicollet posts the information on its web site.

The original ban on gifts to doctors, on the books since 1993 in Minnesota, prohibits bestowing "any gift of value" to a practitioner.  Marty's bill seeks to remove the "of value" part of the language, because he believes that leaves loopholes.

"One of my colleagues said in one of the hospitals every Wednesday is pizza day," Marty said, "The pharmaceutical guys would come in with pizza
for the whole staff and they'd sit and talk for a couple of minutes."
Many hospitals around the nation are looking to remove the subtle influence of pharmaceutical company logos on a variety of promotional trinkets such as pens, coffee mugs, and note pads. 

Last year, for example, SMDC Health System in Duluth launched the "Clean Sweep" initiative, with the goal of removing those items from exam rooms and other areas of its clinics and hospitals in the Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Dr. Kenneth Irons, the chief of community clinics for SMDC, said at the time, "We want our patients to know the quality of their health care is our number one concern."

The staff collected 18,718 logo-bearing knickknacks, including clipboards, clocks, pens, cups, calculators and stuffed animals. To drive the point home, Dr. Irons posed for photos with part of the haul from the purge. 

"This shows people we're not in the pharmaceutical companies' back pockets," he said.

Dr. Cerra? Dr. Powell?


At least one reader was not fooled

By Professor Martin's recent article in the Strib.

From the Daily:

Institutional support a shameful waste

BY Ross Anderson

First off, kudos to University professors Eva Von Dassow and Timothy Brennan in their commentary in the Star Tribune, “Where does the U’s money go?” The column was both elucidating and courageous; thank you both.
The brave words of Dassow and Brennan revealed the following: a 27 percent increase in University expenditures over the last five years… (An argument that lends itself to statistical manipulation quite well on both sides.)

They reveal a debatable decrease in fellowship and scholarship programs. Most importantly, they explain the disproportionate increase in the “institutional support” category of expenditures, a category that has doubled over the last five years. This increase amounts to $143 million and constitutes an 80 percent increase since 2004-05 — an amount that would cover the forthcoming reduction in the University’s annual state appropriation. Where is all this money going?

According to Dassow and Brennan: “Amongst other things, a growing array of vice presidents and associate vice presidents.” The University currently has 12 vice presidents, “several of whose positions have been created during the last five years.” All of whom were hired at about a quarter-million dollar-a-year salary (some make much more) and demand additional money for staff support, travel, and other “assorted expenses.” (This column advises you to be wary of any such vague budgetary explanations.)

They conclude that because most of these VPs neither teach nor do research, the University could “do without most of the services they perform.” They also cite the “administrative burden” these VPs impose on the true academics, and that “they operate with little meaningful public oversight or accountability.” The column ends by suggesting that the University should release a few of these “central administrators” and cap University salaries at $250,000. Reminding the bureaucrats that such a cap “would cause no one any pain … (and) save millions.” This argument makes perfect sense to this columnist.

I awoke Saturday morning planning to provide a further rant about this issue for the pages of the Daily. I was again delighted to open the Star Tribune to find a counterpoint written by University professor and chair of the University Senate Finance and Planning Committee Judith A Martin. I read eagerly and to Martin, I say congratulations. Spoken like a true bureaucrat, you have further proved the point of Dassow and Brennan.

She begins by feigning indignation over “incorrectly representing facts” and then follows this statement with a paragraph that serves only to further drown the debate in technical twaddle. (I read it five times and still have no idea what the good doctor is talking about.)

I don’t mean to cast doubt on her sincerity, but I will state plainly that her attempts to clarify have failed miserably and her defense of the status quo was very unconvincing. Perhaps I’m a bit dense, but in more than 10 years of reading the newspaper I’ve never read a such technical and confusing explanation of an issue. She makes statements and then provides limited (perhaps manipulated) statistical evidence to support her claims. She frames her entire argument with contrived righteousness and a seeming commitment to “diverse perspectives,” but after reading the entire piece these ideas seem only a hollow diversion at best and an intentional manipulation at worst. (See “U’s administrative spending is in line,” April 11, Star Tribune.)

Vague, empty rationalization of poor institutional practices is a common problem in large bureaucracies. I should know — I lived in our country’s largest bureaucracy, the United States Army, for more than three years. Martin’s commentary read like so many mystifying memos sent down the chain of command — just a piece of paper with words devoid of meaning, written by one of the many distant and powerful puppet-masters.

She claims the University is making “tough, strategic decisions to reduce costs” and then doesn’t deem it necessary to elaborate whatsoever, except for providing a few empty buzzwords. Then she notes the “complex budget” as if the complexity is its own defense.

On the point of overpaid, unnecessary vice presidents and the proposed salary cap, Martin decided not to opine. This column considers her silence to be a concession on these points.
I am joining Dassow and Brennan in their call to cut central administration and cap salaries at $250,000.

I learned a lot about bureaucracy in the Army. Habitual waste and complacent thinking naturally strangle large, multifaceted organizations, and the University is not exempt for these systemic problems. Large mob of plebes, check. Vast hierarchal administrative structure to control the plebes, check. An enormous, partially taxpayer-derived budget, check. Created administrative positions for well-connected associates, check. Sure, sounds like the bureaucracy I’m most familiar with, and I’d bet every cent I have that the University is equally wasteful on a scale proportionate to its size.

If you don’t like what you’ve just read, I encourage you call President Bob Bruininks at 612-626-1616, along with the other budgetary bureaucrats. Tell them to stop wasting your money on vague expenditures like “institutional support.”

April 12, 2009

tjs - Like a moth, to the flame


"Thus has the candle singed the moathe." [Merchant of Venice]

I think that you have misconstrued the original land grant mission of the university and would invite you to step outside Morrill Hall - the next time you are over there - and have a look at what is written on the facade of Northrop:

The University of Minnesota

Founded in the faith that people are ennobled by understanding

Dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth

Devoted to the instruction of youth and the welfare of the state

I don't see anything there about "ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]."

How about one of the top three public universities in the BigTen? Let's try to get there first. I am afraid this is not likely to happen in my lifetime. Unless, of course, when OurLeader and OurProvost move on to their earthly rewards, we get lucky. Leadership does matter.

Education Reform at the U of M?

There is a quite thought-provoking commentary to be found on the Strib site today:

My own experience in higher education as a member of a state oversight board and a trustee of a private liberal arts college was dominated by two issues: finance and relevancy. How do we broaden access, and how do we align course offerings with workplace needs?

Once in a while we talked about increasing cultural understanding and appreciation. Over wine and cheese, we dignified our roles as keepers of the canon of Western thought and tradition, promoting the essential values of the classical, regardless of their immediate application to earning and winning. Then it was back to increasing enrollment and raising capital for the new athletic facility.

Readers might say I am only beating the dead horse of the liberal arts, and I admit the failing. It's in my genes. But I also believe that establishing the connection between that kind of education, the humane, and the doing of all we must do in the real world is the basis of any kind of higher-education reform.

One leads to another, and back again. One informs the other, and improves our decisions to act as good citizens of the world. They are the two peas in the educational pod.

Education reform, in the grand scheme, is necessary and should be perpetual. Each generation must rethink its wants and needs in this ever-changing, speed-filled, dangerous world. Some constants are likewise necessary. For justice, we surely need to break down the barriers to entry. For leadership and national security, we need to generate more and more information, fashion it into knowledge and apply it rigorously for our benefit.

But we also need to renew our sense of higher education. Colleges and universities are not factories, subject to input and output measures alone. They must certainly be places to learn to do, but also to learn to assimilate and nurture and re-create ideas in order for us to continue to be good stewards of the past, skeptics of the comfortable and pat, and devotees of pondering.

Such considerations are unfashionable in this time of repackaging and single-focus reform. I would submit, however, that our country's economic well-being and its standing as a champion of equality and social justice will benefit from a higher-education system that is, on the most fundamental level, inefficient.

That is, a system that values dreams and ambiguity, that competes for the good and the beautiful as well as for the applied invention and global rankings. To be civilized is to be educated, and to be educated is to be moral and happy citizens.

Reform should begin with colleges and universities living up to the mottoes etched (usually in Latin, naturally) on their ivy-covered walls. Cut away some of the ivy and read them.

Charles Neerland, Minneapolis, is a communications consultant.

I think that our administration has seriously misconstrued the original land grant mission of the university and would invite them to step outside Morrill Hall and do some reading. Of course they won't be able to go out the front door of Morrill, but that is another story. Our code is written, in English, on non-ivy covered walls. It reads:

The University of Minnesota

Founded in the faith that people are ennobled by understanding

Dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth

Devoted to the instruction of youth and the welfare of the state

Somehow I don't see how this inscription fits with the mantra of the Strategic Propaganda Initiative: "ambitious aspirations to become one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]"

Earth to President Bruininks and Provost Sullivan. Earth to President Bruininks and Provost Sullivan. Get real, get real, get....

Futher Erosion of Graduate Student Support

Judith Martin recently asserted in her Op-Ed:

"It is also incorrect to assert that university support for students has declined."

This is a strange, misleading, and debatable assertion for Professor Martin to make. Unfortunately, it is not the only one to be found in her hortatory column which asserts that the U's administrative spending is in line. If this is true, Professor Martin, then how is it that the administration can make the claim now that they plan to cut administration significantly? Most faculty members know from their own experience - and OurLeader has himself admitted - that we are administratively topheavy.

Yet another example has surfaced that Professor Martin and her compadres in the Administration are making the same kind of apples and oranges comparisons that she criticized - in the form of stealth slashing of graduate student support.

From a colleague's email yesterday:

Dear All,

I have just been informed that the "no less support for graduate students" includes a memo, yesterday, to all of them, telling many of them that they are now paying an extra $750 for summer health insurance...

Here's that message about the GA health plan I was telling you about. Notice that they begin by writing that all fellowship holders will continue to be covered through August 31, 2009--but it's not free. When you actually click on the link to find your summer premium, they admit: "Graduate students covered by Graduate Fellowships or department fellowships will be responsible for the entire summer premium, unless the department offers to pay for your insurance coverage." ($752.40)

Dear Plan Member,

Graduate Assistants, Graduate Fellows, and Trainees who are enrolled in the Graduate Assistant Health Benefit Plan spring semester 2009 will continue to be covered through August 31, 2009.

The University will make a contribution toward your summer premium. The University’s contribution is based your average appointment percentage over the 2008-2009 academic year.

To determine the University’s contribution toward your summer premium and the total amount you will pay:

-- Go to http://www.bhs.umn.edu/insurance/twincities/ga/
-- Look under “Summer Coverage”
-- Click on “Summer Premium Calculator”

After the University’s contribution, you are responsible for the entire summer premium remaining. If your department has agreed to pay this remaining summer premium on your behalf, please have your department contact the Graduate Assistant Health Benefits Office no later than May 31, 2009 to arrange for payment.

Students who wish to decline summer coverage must submit a cancellation form to the Graduate Assistant Health Benefits Office no later than May 16, 2009. To download a cancellation form:

-- Go to http://www.bhs.umn.edu/insurance/twincities/ga/
-- Look under “Plan Benefits”
-- Click on “Continuation of Coverage/Cancellation Form”

Please contact us with any questions.


Susann Jackson
Administrative Director


Graduate Assistant Health Benefits Office
University of Minnesota

April 11, 2009

The Empire Strikes Back

Professor Judith Martin has an Op-Ed in the Strib in response to an earlier piece by Eva von Dassow and Timothy Brennan.

[For background, please see: "Twelve Dancing Vice-Presidents, Eleven Lords a Leapin': Read It And Weep..."]

From the Strib:

Diversity of opinion is at the core of university culture. While opinions may vary widely, however, facts never should. Academics know that our reputations hinge upon astute analysis, carefully comparing apples to apples to draw logical conclusions.

That is what was so troubling about a recent opinion piece asserting that the University of Minnesota is overspending on administration ("Where does the U’s money go?", April 7.) In this difficult economy, uncertainty and angst are to be expected. But incorrectly representing facts is not acceptable in academic debate or on the opinion page.

The truth is that the university’s Institutional Support budget category is not "essentially central administration."
Eighty-five percent of the growth in this category since 2005 can be attributed to three major items unmentioned in the previous commentary: a significant change in the way utility costs are reported (newly coded as "institutional support"), a required change to the way fringe benefit rates are calculated, and one-time costs related to the university’s new budget software system.

Without these three items, operation and compensation costs for the university’s central administration rose by roughly 8 percent between 2005 and 2008. This is consistent with increases in academic programs and is an order of magnitude less than alleged.

Even so, all units — academic and administrative — have been asked to prepare budgets for the next fiscal year based on unprecedented reductions of 5 percent and 8 percent. To say that proposed "cuts are primarily directed at academic programs" is simply not true. University President Robert Bruininks has repeatedly said that to protect students and the university’s education and research missions, the budget will be balanced by taking proportionally larger reductions in administrative overhead. The U is cutting costs and improving productivity not just for the current biennium, but for the long term.

It is also incorrect to assert that university support for students has declined.
As part of the U’s historic commitment to educating Minnesota students, direct financial support for students increased by 32 percent between 2005 and 2008, from $115 million to $152 million. The illusion that scholarship and fellowship expenditures have decreased since 2005 is an apples-and-­oranges problem, comparing real past expenditures with rough future estimates.

This is, at the very least, an unfortunate oversight, because it obscures the university’s recent strong leadership and success on these issues. The Promise of Tomorrow Scholarship Drive generated $256 million in private support in the past five years to endow scholarships, doubling the number offered and the size of the awards. The U has also invested $37 million in campuswide support for graduate and professional students. Today all low-income Minnesota students — a full 12 percent of our undergraduates — attend U of M campuses tuition-free thanks to strong institutional and private support. Substantial increases in need-based student support for middle-income Minnesota students are now being modeled to moderate future tuition increases.

For the second time in the past six years, the university is making tough, strategic decisions to reduce costs; to protect quality, and to improve management, productivity, and transparency [sic]. The goal is not simply to survive, but to thrive. In times of economic uncertainty, to distort and oversimplify complex budget issues is destructive to everyone. Leading the changes needed to ensure a strong future for the university requires diverse perspectives, new ideas — and a single set of accurate facts.

Judith A. Martin is a professor of urban studies and geography and is chair of the University Senate Finance and Planning Committee.

Perhaps Professor Martin might want to have a chat with Julie Tonneson, budget director at the U of MN's Office of Budget and Finance? Ms Tonneson recently said that institutional support “is basically central administration.”

Many of the statements made above by Professor Martin are debatable.

It would be best for her not to treat colleagues in a patronizing fashion - it will be a tropical January day in Duluth when the average faculty member can extract from the deliberately obfuscatory university administration "a single set of accurate facts."

(Are there inaccurate facts, I wonder.)

It's a sin to kill a mockingbird...

From the Strib:

Northrop Auditorium, the stately 1929 building that caps the mall of the University of Minnesota, will stay open for one more year before closing for a two-year architectural overhaul.

The seating capacity was a point of contention, with some arguing that it needed to remain large enough for graduation ceremonies and others advocating a smaller theater for better acoustics, improved sightlines and a more intimate atmosphere for music and performing arts.

The latter view appears to have prevailed. The renovation plan, with Twin Cities firm HGA as architect and New York-based firm Arup as theatrical and acoustical consultants, would have about 2,800 seats, said Steven Rosenstone, the vice president for scholarly and cultural affairs. Pulling out 2,000 seats from the current configuration and having up to three balconies would create "a higher-quality and more intimate venue," Rosenstone said.

"It would be a sin not to get more use out of the space that is at the heart of campus," Rosenstone said.

The delayed start has not affected the budget, which Rosenstone said remains at about $70 million.

And where, exactly, is the money for this coming from?

Once again there is the question of priorities for spending at the U.

Do we need a cultural czar at the U of M?

And how much is being paid for his (administrative) salary?

The U seems to be developing champagne tastes on a beer budget.

It is also a sin to to use the limited funds we have unwisely.

April 10, 2009

Use of non-restricted funds to cover deficit balances in the Department of Psychiatry

Those of us who have been around the University of Minnesota Medical School understand that it is not always safe or wise to identify yourself. For example, today I received the following anonymous message in the campus mail.

April 6, 2009

Dear Dr. Gleason:

I am an employee in the department of psychiatry in the medical school. I would like to thank you for your 3/25/09 blog entry and previous ones regarding the questionable financial relationship between Dr. Charles Schulz, head of psychiatry, and the pharmaceutical industry.

I would like to share with you an email message that the administration of the department of psychiatry sent out last week to all department faculty:

"Thank you for your efforts towarrd the reduction of the deficit for the Department of Psychiatry. As part of the deficit reduction plan, non-restricted fund balances are being reviewed and considered as a potential source for covering deficit balances."

It would be great if Dr. Schulz leads by example and parts with a couple hundred thousand dollars out of the "non-restricted" money he obtained from big pharma. This would certainly make a dent in the department's financial deficit. It would also make it less painful for people to pay for the irresponsible financial conduct by the department administration instead of using the non-restricted funds they have worked so hard to support their research during these hard times of external funding, wouldn't it?

An employee in the Department of Psychiatry

I apologize for not disclosing my name.

April 9, 2009

Telling Comments on Dean Finnegan's letter

See below for the text of Dean Finnegan's recent letter to the Daily and some of my own intemperate ranting about it.

The following comments to the Finnegan letter have appeared on the Daily website
. I think they illustrate the situation we now face:

The U of M is academically and intellectually dysfunctional.

If this is what passes for thought or reasoned argument on the part of its administrators then it is gravely so.

The same cannot be said of the other universities mentioned, all of which would only dream of welcoming comparison with the U of M after severe bombardment or some other kind of disaster.

At the other universities mentioned, one does not face the same extreme level of bureaucratic oligarchy, with the result that they accomplish the be all end all of great universities: promotion of intense academic rigor and accomplishment.

The anti-intellectual and fatuous sloganeering of the U of M administration reveals what the students and faculty already know: it is a corrupt dictatorship.

And another commenter notes:

Substance AND process

There is a very good reason why very little has been discussed in public fora regarding the substance of the Graduate School restructuring -- there is nothing to discuss yet!
This is not to say that the Graduate School operates perfectly as is and should not be examined for potential restructuring and reduction of inefficiencies as, indeed, ALL aspects of the University should be examined in this tight budget climate.

But, aside from deciding -- in direct opposition to policies and established norms -- to restructure the Graduate School without prior consultation of the faculty and the students which would be directly impacted by such a change, the administration has provided the university community with very few and very vague statements about what such a restructuring will entail.
Until the Implementation Team (or whatever it has been renamed) has released its report detailing which functions they recommend remain centralized and what will be decentralized it is unclear just what this restructuring means, and how it will impact the quality of graduate education at this University. Just as keeping a centralized, autonomous Graduate School does not guarantee success, restructuring and losing the Graduate School does not guarantee success - even if some universities have done it successfully. (You should be aware, of course, that Stanford's loss of an independent Graduate School was -not- successful and they have returned to the original centralized structure). Regardless, until we as a community know what is actually being proposed, we cannot evaluate whether it will enhance graduate education, result in the loss of redundancies, or save the UofM money. It is simply too early for these discussions.

Aside from substance, the university community has a reason to address these process issues. Shared governance is very important to the successful functioning of a university, in that way the university is quite different from corporations. It is important for the administration to recognize that faculty (and staff and students) are dedicated to the successful running of the university. And they are often far more informed on what is going on, on the ground. The administration has a much better idea of the "50,000 foot view", but decisions should not be made solely at this level. Multiple views, both from the sky and the ground, must be discussed in order to get the best working structure that will lead to the greatest excellence in all aspects of university functioning. This is the crux and basis of shared governance. And when it is ignored, there is a legitimate cause for concern.

Both faculty and student organizations have refrained from an outright stance against the restructuring of graduate education. I have not heard a single person claim that the Graduate School operates perfectly as is or there are not problems that need to be addressed. I have heard concerns that the restructuring may not -necessarily- improve the situation, and certainly the outcome can go in any direction at this point. The reason the discussion has focused on process is because, at this point, there are no recommendations, no clear plan, so there is no substance to be addressed.


Here's a reason to avoid proper procedure.

These sorts of pleas for not letting action be dragged down by procedure got us stuck in Iraq.

"What's the parallel?" you ask. Well, in both cases there were facts and issues that might have contradicted the arguments made by those who most vigorously supported the idea.

For example, the dissolution of the grad school would concentrate even more authority in the hands of provost Sullivan. One fear that people who are questioning this move have expressed is how oversight will be carried out. That's a question to answer BEFORE implementing a change, not something to deal with "if it comes up."

Why not provide (as the rules stipulate) a process for timely review and comment?

What deadline are you working against so furiously?

Or is this a strategy of implying urgency in the hope of forestalling any discussion because, as we all know, it's a different question after the fact, which is to say, once an action has been taken, it is much more difficult to undo.

Reasoned debate and procedures are not the enemies of progress, they're the enemy of haste and poor judgment. If restructuring or destroying and replacing the current graduate school is such an obvious, unassailably great idea, it should stand up to scrutiny, and nobody has yet provided a good reason for the urgency of making the decision in private and contravening the rules.

This all looks awfully fishy, and it makes the provost and his supporters come across like some secretive cabal set on taking over the U.

Maybe this is a great idea, but I don't want to be ruled from on high, where the dictates come down and the U is at the whim of Sullivan's rule by fiat. This looks like a way to achieve a far more problematic goal, which is to move the U to a model that looks increasingly like that of a private, for-profit corporation, rather than a public, land-grant institution.

They want to cut programs, hire adjuncts, and they do it in the name of efficiency.

I don't think that's our goal. We should achieve our mission as efficiently as possible, sure, but our mission has nothing to do with efficiency at its core. We have no shareholders, we don't turn profits, we aren't supposed to. The U adds value to the community and the state in different ways, and to confuse it with a business and run it on that model all but assures its long-term failure and the death of humanities, social sciences, fine arts, etc.

That's too high a cost, and those who think we wouldn't miss it, just you wait. This isn't a polytechnic, it's an R1 university. If we need to cut things and contract sections, let's start with the real dead weight and fat, and cut a few of these vice-presidents. DOWN WITH ADMIN! THEY'RE THE PROBLEM!

Conflict of Interest at the Medical School: We Look Worse and Worse


From MedCity News:

A broad conflict-of-interest overhaul at Case Western Reserve University will scrutinize industry-sponsored research and could mean the end of drug representatives picking up lunch for medical students.

It essentially requires anyone working or attending the school to report even a modicum of potential conflict related to their research. If there’s “any doubt about whether or not an activity must be reported, the individual should report the activity,” the new policy states.

The University of Minnesota recently announced a new policy that frustrated some officials for rolling back rules to phase out industry funding of continuing education.

“Some schools are completely doing away with industry funding because of its potential to bias the content - even when careful restrictions are made,” said Gabriel Silverman, the director of last year’s American Medical Student Association conflict of interest scorecard.

Dean Finnegan Does His Jaws Act


From the Daily:

Once in a while, the University of Minnesota has the opportunity to do something really bold, to lead the pack of public research universities.

[You mean like have a decent COI policy in the medical school?]

That time has potentially arrived with the effort to restructure graduate education, if we don’t allow ourselves to get mired in “process” questions at the expense of “substance” questions. Too often, at Minnesota, we avoid the substance questions and spend an inordinate amount of time snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

[Gee, Dean Finnegan, would you like to give a couple of examples of exactly what you are talking about?]

Something is getting lost in the discussion over restructuring graduate education at the University, and I believe it is the substance question. Let’s be clear that a large, centralized graduate school is not the only way to accomplish the goal of excellence in graduate education. MIT doesn’t think so. Stanford doesn’t think so. The University of Pennsylvania doesn’t think so. The University of Chicago doesn’t think so. These are just a few of the major universities that have managed to keep their excellence high and I would daresay exceed Minnesota in a number of graduate education fields. So let’s be clear at the outset that there is no single way to build or to assure excellence in graduate education.

[Your models are wrong here, Dean Finnegan. Do you have any idea why?]

Models that have worked well for a century are not necessarily the best or most cost-effective models for the future. The time is here for Minnesota to take the next steps toward envisioning and organizing vibrant, innovative, high-quality graduate programs that are responsive to changing field and market conditions and that empower college faculty and deans to be responsible and accountable to make them so. [A finer example of adminspeak, I've not seen since, er, Provost Sullivan's stuff.] For once, let’s have the substance discussion and try snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

[Maybe we could try out a little ethical behavior first, Dean Finnegan. And a little faculty governance? But I guess that is just too trivial a matter for a high roller like you.]

John Finnegan

Dean, School of Public Health

Dr. Finnegan is well aware, or should be, that MIT, the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford are small, private, institutions. Their model may not be appropriate for a large, land grant university in the Big Ten.

How many Big Ten universities are following the model you espouse Dean Finnegan?

And about process. We didn't just fall off the turnip truck. OurProvost is a lawyer; process is important. Have you ever heard of the concept of "due process." For heaven's sake, let's not get mired in "process" issues. Let's just lynch those criminals...

Oh and by the way, what is the status of the double-dipping faculty members at the U of M? Are we still waiting for Georgia Tech to do something, or are we just going to hope that if we wait long enough, the problem will blow over? Is this another unimportant process issue?

Perhaps you should worry about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory yourself, Dean Finnegan? How about standing up and doing the right thing on the double-dippers?

Bill Gleason

[for more on the Sainfort-Jacko debacle and Finnegan's involvement in it, please see: U Admin: Sainfort, Jacko Being Treated Unfairly? ]

April 8, 2009

Denial - It Ain't Just A River in Egypt

From the Daily:

Will the AHC ever recognize a problem?

BY Josh Lackner

The University of Minnesota’s administration is doing a full court press against the existence of conflicts of interest. Academic Health Center vice president Frank Cerra wrote in a recent e-mail to the AHC that, “I’d like to make a couple of points loud and clear. Yes, the faculty within the Academic Health Center … have relationships with industry. Our new ideas, our discoveries would never go anywhere if there weren’t a company willing to develop or manufacture the results of our work … And, yes, our faculties … are compensated for their time and work.”

The following day, the Minnesota Daily published an AP article that revealed the Department of Psychiatry’s chair S. Charles Schulz inaccurately hyped the antipsychotic drug Seroquel when the company’s own data showed it to be, at best, equivalent to a competitor’s cheaper drug. Schulz was a highly paid consultant for the company.

The article also reported that, “The dean of the medical school, Dr. Deborah Powell, is aware of the controversy and has offered Schulz her full support … ” It is not a shock that Powell, who receives compensation from Pepsi, does not acknowledge that conflict of interest. But she should acknowledge a problem.

Meanwhile, Cerra casts the debate in dichotomous terms. Cerra frequently argues as if the University’s only choice were between accepting lucrative consulting sums from industry or cutting ties with industry altogether.

But the Medical School can have relationships with industry without acting as its spokespeople and without accepting lucrative consulting fees. The public recognizes a problem in medicine. Of 42 comments in a Star Tribune article about Schulz, nearly all express outrage. People are far more suspicious of pharmaceutical representative and physician interactions than are physicians themselves. That makes sense because, in the end, it is the patient who pays the price.

Josh Lackner is a Medical School student.

April 7, 2009

Drip, drip, drip...

From the Pioneer-Press:

Vermont legalizes gay marriage with veto override

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Vermont today became the fourth state to legalize gay marriage — and the first to do so with a legislature's vote.

The House recorded a dramatic 100-49 vote — the minimum needed — to override Gov. Jim Douglas' veto. Its vote followed a much easier override vote in the Senate, which rebuffed the Republican governor with a vote of 23-5.

Vermont was the first state to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples and joins Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa in giving gays the right to marry. Their approval of gay marriage came from the courts.

This morning's legislative action came less than a day after Douglas issued a veto message saying the bill would not improve the lot of gay and lesbian couples because it still would not provide them rights under federal and other states' laws.

Twelve Dancing Vice-Presidents, Eleven Lords a Leapin': Read It And Weep...

From the Strib:

Where does the University's money go? By Eva von Dassow and Timothy Brennan

Minnesota’s dire economic straits mean budget cuts for every state-supported entity. Accordingly, the University of Minnesota is facing a drastic reduction in its state appropriation. How drastic has yet to be decided, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty has recommended a reduction of $151 million for the coming biennium, plus a further $36 million reduction starting in 2010.
To close the gap, the university’s administration is proposing severe budget cuts accompanied by tuition increases. But these cuts are primarily directed at academic programs, which are precisely what students pay tuition for. The good people of Minnesota fund roughly one-quarter of the university’s budget, and this is a good time to ask what they are getting for their money.

We can start by examining where the budget has grown over the last five years. The budget plan for the current year includes an increase in total expenditures of 27 percent over the figure for 2004-05. While inflation can account for some of the additional half-billion dollars in expenditures, the increase has been quite unevenly distributed. Where have the university’s costs increased the most?

During the last five years, expenditures for instruction have risen 29 percent. This growth can be accounted for by several factors, some directly related to the university’s core mission and others largely beyond its control. New and growing programs require additional instructors, and in some years faculty get merit-based pay raises (though not this year, in which hiring as well as wages are mostly frozen). Meanwhile, health insurance costs keep increasing for both employers and employees.

Expenditures in several other categories have risen as well, but generally by a smaller percentage. Meanwhile, expenditures on scholarships and fellowships have actually gone down by almost $9 million (about 8 percent) since 2004-05.

But in one category, expenditures have nearly doubled over the last five years. That category is "institutional support," which consists essentially of central administration. The 2008-09 budget plan increases expenditures for institutional support by more than $143 million, or 80 percent, over the figure for 2004-05. The spending increase in this category alone covers the amount by which the governor proposes to reduce the state’s annual appropriation to the university.

What has the university bought with all this additional money spent on "institutional support"? Among other things, a growing array of vice presidents and associate vice presidents. The university now employs 12 VPs, several of whose positions have been created during the last five years. Every occupant of such a position earns a six-figure salary, starting at around $250,000 per year. Multiply by twelve, add a number of associate VPs, then staff support, plus assorted expenses for everything from office supplies to travel — and the institution spends millions more each year on central administration.

But is all that administration worth it? Does it make a commensurate contribution to the university’s core missions of teaching, research and public service? Most top administrators neither teach nor do research (though there are exceptions). Many faculty, staff and students feel we could do without most of the services they do perform, which in our experience tend mainly to increase the administrative burden of our work. Moreover, they operate with little meaningful public oversight or accountability. A dramatic example is the administration’s recent decision to abolish the Graduate School and appoint a new VP of graduate education, citing possible cost savings that might come at the risk of undermining the university’s very purpose. This decision was taken without faculty consultation, in violation of university policy. Despite strenuous faculty and student opposition, the regents have acquiesced to it.

In sum, the huge increase in expenditures on central administration over the last few years has produced little return on the public’s investment in education at the university. Cutting central administration down to 2004-05 levels would shrink the university’s budget without doing appreciable harm to academic programs.

One way to cut it would be to reduce the number of top administrators. Eliminating just a few positions that are overpaid in relation to their contribution to the university’s core mission would save millions. Another way to cut costs, and not only in administration, would be to cap salaries.

We propose that the state of Minnesota require, as a condition of its appropriation to the university, a salary cap of $250,000 per year for all university employees. Such a cap would cause no one any pain. It would save millions of dollars annually, helping to preserve academic programs from cuts that would do the university, and therefore the public, real harm. It would help make further tuition increases unnecessary.

This cap could be a temporary measure, to be reconsidered once the economic crisis passes. In the meantime, those who would be affected ought not bemoan being dropped into a lower tax bracket.

Eva von Dassow and Timothy Brennan are professors at the University of Minnesota. This article reflects their personal views.

I am in agreement with everything but the $250 K cap. I'd cut salaries by 5 to 20%, depending on how much people made, starting at $100 K. I've made suggestions earlier about ways to cut back that would not affect our core mission. Please see: "We have no money, therefore we must think."

April 5, 2009

On the extraordinary venality of academic psychiatry

UD has posted a longer cut from a recent Times Literary Supplement article about David Healy.

From the TLS article:

What particularly arouses Healy’s ire is the manufacture of bipolar disorder among infants. Cocktails of drugs are given to children as young as one or two. Diagnostic criteria are relaxed to allow more and more children into the mix. Foundations are established for parents of such children to assemble and lobby on behalf of fixing the alleged biochemical imbalances that produce their children’s misbehaviour. Stories of epidemics of teenage depression are planted in the mass media. Rating scales are manipulated, and used to demonstrate that the pills have behavioural effects – something it is difficult not to demonstrate. Meantime, the sequestering of data allows a situation where the published scientific literature is all too often at odds with what the scientific data themselves would show, were they actually allowed into the public arena.

Full disclosure: My late uncle was an extraordinary psychiatrist who specialized in the treatment of adolescents. He would be heartsick over these developments.

April 3, 2009

Iowa Supreme Court says state's same-sex marriage ban violates gays' constitutional rights

Wow, just wow...

From the Strib:

DES MOINES, Iowa - The Iowa Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling Friday finding that the state's same-sex marriage ban violates the constitutional rights of gay and lesbian couples, making Iowa the third state where marriage is legal.

In its decision, the court upheld a 2007 district court judge's ruling that the law violates the state constitution. It strikes the language from Iowa code limiting marriage to only between a man a woman.

"The court reaffirmed that a statute inconsistent with the Iowa constitution must be declared void even though it may be supported by strong and deep-seated traditional beliefs and popular opinion," said a summary of the ruling issued by the court.

April 2, 2009

Morris Matters - Two, Count 'em, Two - Truman Scholars!

truman scholars.jpg

From the U M Morris website:

University of Minnesota, Morris students Kellcee Baker and Ashley Gaschk have been named 2009 Truman Scholars, two of the 60 selected across the entire United States, announced Morris campus Chancellor Jacqueline Johnson.

“I speak for the entire campus when I extend my sincere congratulations to Kellcee and Ashley as our 2009 Truman Scholars,” said Johnson. “We are so proud of these two students. Their success with the Truman illustrates what we at Morris already know—our students are among the best in the country and they are prepared to be tomorrow’s leaders.”

Baker, daughter of Scott and Tracy Baker, Audubon, Minn., is the only Truman recipient selected from Minnesota and Gaschk, daughter of Mitchell and Della Gaschk, Bismarck, N.D., is the only North Dakotan named. Both juniors at Morris, they are the only University of Minnesota students selected from among 601 candidates nominated by 289 colleges and universities.

Let's not forget in our rush to fulfill "ambitious aspirations to be one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]" that our first priority is our students. Our colleagues at Morris have not forgotten this. Congratulations to the students and faculty there!

April 1, 2009

More than you ever wanted to know about heparin

The U has recently been getting good press for videos on YouTube.

In our lab we have been making scientific movies for quite a while and some of them may have scientific, educational, or technical value. I post this draft as an example:

Statement on the Graduate School Dissolution by the Faculty Senate Research Committee

Faculty governance? Bob? Tom?


RESEARCH COMMITTEE Statement on the Graduate School

Information for the Faculty Senate

Statement on The Graduate School

On 23 March 2009 the Senate Research Committee (SRC) meeting discussed the impact of the proposed closure of the Graduate School on the research mission of the University of Minnesota.

First and foremost, the SRC hopes the administration will reconsider its efforts to close the Graduate School.

At the very least, the SRC believes that closure of the Graduate School, and delegation of its responsibilities to other University units, would be unwise until critical issues, as described below, are resolved by faculty, through their governance system, working with the administration.

Objectivity, independence, and an emphasis on quality are required to best guide decisions related to research, program development and assessment, graduate student selection, and the awarding of graduate fellowships. These criteria have been hallmarks of the Graduate School over the decades. The SRC is concerned that any loss of these characteristics will negatively impact research quality at the University, particularly in the following key areas currently organized by the Graduate School. Regardless of which administrative units these functions are transferred to in the event of a reorganization of the Graduate School, it is imperative that these operational principles are preserved.

A. Faculty Grants

The Graduate School is able to support faculty research based on merit and productivity alone and without interference from general planning, current initiatives, or other direction from the University’s administrative direction or the prevailing state political winds. The Graduate School’s impartiality, independence, and commitment to excellence are critical to the health of the University’s research mission and continued academic freedom.

If there were no Graduate School the question would be how one supports faculty research based solely on merit. One can imagine that the movement of this function to a unit without the same perspective could result in a process compromised by programmatic planning or strategic initiatives specific to that unit and excluding from the decision-making process its campus-wide impact. It is easy to say this would not happen, but an environment where funding is always limited creates a situation where compromise is likely to happen. In other words, how could a firewall be implemented which would guarantee that intramural faculty grants would be awarded based on merit alone?

B. Interdisciplinary Initiatives

Fostering of interdisciplinary research has become a common goal at many universities around the country including Minnesota. Certainly the funding of interdisciplinary initiatives cannot be completely independent of programmatic planning but there must be some part which seeks out those which are innovative or hold ground breaking potential for support truly independent of strategic initiatives, programmatic planning, or other considerations. Given this need, essentially the same question regarding faculty grants is again applicable: How could a firewall be implemented which would guarantee the amount of funding and that the awards were based on merit.

C. Policy and Reviews

Assessment of quality is a major responsibility of University faculty and includes student grades, faculty hires, and tenure decisions. On a broader scale, quality assessment must occur for centers and graduate programs, but is only meaningful if conducted in an independent and unbiased fashion. During review processes, the critical elements are the selection of the review committee members and their charge; the Graduate School is an independent and impartial organizer of such committees. This process requires a significant effort by the organizer. The review process of centers must continue with the quality of the review and the integrity of the process as performed by the Graduate School.

D. Graduate Fellowships

The Graduate School awards fellowships based on the quality of the candidate, without concerns about programmatic planning or equal distribution among units. In the Graduate School’s absence, the amount of funding in this critical area must be maintained and a firewall implemented to guarantee the disbursement of funds based solely on quality.

E. Postdoctoral Affairs

The postdoctoral scholars play a key role in the research quality of the University and the University of Minnesota has been one of the very best institutions in the United States in terms of working environment for postdocs. A major reason for this high rating is that the University has, in the Graduate School, one of the few offices of postdoctoral affairs that addresses on a regular basis equitable working conditions, pay, and the social aspects of the postdoctoral experience. Studies at other institutions have shown that without campus-wide efforts, local concerns often result in tolerance of inadequate pay, benefits, and poor mentoring. In early 2009 the National Science Foundation began to require that effective postdoctoral mentoring be addressed in all proposals where they will conduct aspects of the project. It is critical to University faculty that they continue to benefit from the organized mentoring activities of a campus-wide office that can coordinate activities difficult or impossible to do as a ‘one-off’ activity by individual PIs or by smaller academic units.

The SRC discussion also revealed faculty confusion about the stated reasons for closing the graduate school and the process outlined to reorganize this academic unit. Cost saving was the main reason given. The SRC members believe, however, that the cost savings may largely come from unfunded mandates for colleges and departments to perform many of the functions currently performed by the Graduate School. Given how stretched units are, it is clear that this is not a viable solution. While at the same time sacrificing all that the Graduate School brings to the University, pushing those costs and services to the colleges and departments will also further depress their capacity to enhance the research standing of the University. Other less drastic alternatives for cost savings that do not require closing the Graduate School should have been put before the faculty before this option was mandated and should still be carefully considered.

If there are additional reasons, beyond cost savings, for closing the Graduate School, then these reasons should be made clear. If any of these additional reasons relate to research, the SRC would be pleased to assist the administration in considering academically-viable solutions that maintain, without adverse consequences, our research activities.

Do OurLeader and OurProvost have the appropriate background to dictate the end of the graduate school without thorough consultation with the faculty beforehand? Certainly it does not look like it from the above comments of the Research Committee. Continuing stubbornly on with this effort seems to be the action of administrators who have more ego than brains...

That this move appears to contradict university policy is egregious, particularly since OurProvost is a serial ex-law school dean.